She’s poured the perfect Guinness in Ireland, outplayed poker pros in Las Vegas, swam with dolphins in Hawaii, and even wrestled an alligator in Orlando. And oh by the way, she’s also done some sizzling bikini modeling you might have seen. She’s of course Golf Channel’s sultry Lauren Thompson. And this accomplished Southern Belle with a megawatt smile can make any story interesting.
Thompson earned her marketing degree at the University of Central Florida, and joined Golf Channel in 2009. She currently hosts the wildly popular Golf Channel shows “Top 10” and “GolfNow” (formerly Destination Golf). You can additionally catch Thompson on the newly expanded morning show “Morning Drive,” and every year she’s Golf Channel’s celebrity interviewer for the PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge. Thompson is also a celebrated actress and model, appearing in numerous television commercials, music videos, and print magazine publications and a talented anchor for the SEC Digital Network.But before you scroll feverishly through the juicy pictures that follow and swoon over her flawless bikini body, let me tell you a bit about “Laurenology.”
Laurenology is about making you feel relaxed and lightheaded, like you’ve been sipping Jack and Coke all morning. Laurenology is about making you feel high and full of promise, the promise of a better day, the promise of a greater hope, the promise of a new tomorrow. Laurenology is about making every, little, rotten thing about life seem like it’s going to be OK.
Thompson’s fiery beauty most certainly catches your eye. But it’s her live wire personality that ultimately captures your heart. So buckle up. You’re about to see a private, revealing side of Thompson you’ve never seen before. “Destination Laurenology” is coming right at you.
P.P: Well first of all Lauren, we’ve been at this some time haven’t we? Thanks so much. And let me be the first to wish you Happy St. Paddy’s Day.
L.T: Thanks for having me Pete… how long have we been swapping emails, maybe a year? That qualifies us to say we go “way back.” Beers on me for St. Paddy’s Day, green beer of course.
P.P: Golf Channel made a big change in February revamping “Morning Drive” with a bold new look and new on air talent. How has your role on the show expanded?
L.T: It’s been a wild ride with Golf Channel. I was initially hired back in 2009 as the host for “Top 10,” then things really took off when I snagged the spot with the travel series, “GolfNow.”
“Morning Drive” was a surprise. I started filling in as a weekly contributor with “Top Ten Things You May Have Missed” – a fun and fast-paced Monday morning rundown of how the weekend shook out in sports and entertainment. I had a blast putting that segment together.
Then when “Morning Drive” made the move to seven days a week, they pretty much had you covered. And that’s when I joined the family for good, covering the news, and making sure the boys behaved weekdays on-air.
Turning this night-owl into a “Morning Person” wasn’t easy, but working day in-day out with the greatest people in golf television makes it something that you’re thankful for every day. Yes, even when that alarm goes off at 3:45 a.m.
P.P: Rory McIlroy of course agreed to a massive endorsement deal with Nike Golf earlier this year. And more recently Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders inked an endorsement deal of her own with Cobra Puma Golf. Every golf fan dreams of Tour sponsorship. What company or companies would you love to be sponsored by?
L.T: I always say that I’m into the “Three G’s” – golf, glam, and grub. I’m a shameless beginner in golf, but my passion in growing the game goes hand in hand with so many products out on the market today. I’ve also been approached by a couple of equipment companies. It has to be the right fit.
P.P: Who are your mentors or role models in this field?
L.T: I have very clear memories of watching golf on Sunday afternoons with my grandfather. He was a retired Eastern Airlines pilot who would always wind down on the weekends with golf on TV, and sometimes a glass of scotch in his hand.
My dad also loved the game, but unfortunately passed away from a brain tumor when I was one-year old. Learning to play recreationally in college provided a connection to him. It was obvious why both of these men loved the game.
Now I’m teaching my six-year-old niece, as well as grabbing friends who are “green to golf” and making monsters out of them!
P.P: Great stuff Lauren. You’re the host of “Destination Golf,” which is widely recognized as the ultimate golf getaway program on television. You’ve giving viewers front row seats to some of the most iconic golf courses in the world, while taking us on some wild adventures along the way. What destinations were some of your favorites? And where would you like to visit in future episodes?
L.T: I wish I could take every viewer on the road with me. There’s so much that happens within the six days of taping an episode, and it poses quite the challenge when fitting it into a 30-minute show. 22 minutes if you take out commercials.
Ireland is one of my all-time favorites. You can’t beat the courses, and the overall history of golf over there is hypnotizing. The grass truly is greener and the people are fantastically friendly.
Looking towards the future, I’d love to take the show into more exotic international golf destinations. I’m not afraid to step outside of my comfort zone, and show even the most seasoned of travelers a few surprises.
P.P: With the Buckeye state hosting the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and Memorial Tournament at MuirfieldVillage, Northeast Ohio might be a great location for a future episode of “Destination Golf.” Golf Digest PGA Teacher of the Year Jimmy Hanlin and 2010 Big Break winner and LPGA pro Carling Coffing host an outrageously entertaining weekly golf show here that you’d absolutely love. I’m just saying.
L.T: You know it! Tell Jimmy and Carling to call me – I’m there.
P.P: Nice! Lauren, let’s get started with our “Front-9” quick pace of play Q&A.
P.P: You, Win McMurry, and Holly Sonders are at Mardi Gras, New Orleans. Who gets the most beads – and why?
L.T: Me, not because I would in any way “earn them” — so get your mind out of the gutter. But I know how to pack when traveling. I’d be the “Mr. T” of the Big Easy.
P.P: What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven a car?
L.T: 120 with me behind the wheel at a test track, 165 in a “Lambo” at a charity event. I suddenly have the urge to beat that number…
P.P: Are you superstitious?
L.T: Nope – just lucky, usually optimistic, and always thankful.
P.P: Who will win more majors in 2013, Tiger or Rory?
L.T: Tiger. Rory needs to get his confidence back up with the new equipment. He has many, many majors ahead of him, no doubt about it. I think it’s time now for Woods to show us some magic.
P.P: A nickname you have that most people don’t know about?
L.T: Oh man, that are not gross or teetering on the line of inappropriate? Aside from the usual “LT,” or “T3” (Top Ten Thompson) that Gary Williams likes to use, the rest are strictly for my close friends.
P.P: Holly Sonders and Kelly Tilghman are both accomplished golfers. Match play who would you bet on, Holly or Kelly?
L.T: This is a tough one! Holly is a force to be reckoned with, but Kelly is a sneaky kind of competitor. Sonders is going to kill me, but my money’s on KT.
P.P: I understand you can’t flex your left arm? What’s that all about?
L.T: How did you know about this? Wow… well, it’s true. I actually have guns or “a gun” per say from kickboxing and hot yoga, but if my life depended on it, I would not be able to flex my left arm. I’ve all but given up on this ever happening.
P.P: What’s your most memorable golf shot and where was it?
L.T: Two weeks ago at Windermere Country Club. A lot of ribbing goes on in our usual foursome, and I was two-strokes away from the lead. On the 16th, I tied up the score with a chip shot from 80 yards right into the cup. Trust me… that doesn’t happen all of the time. It was beautiful.
P.P: A lot of men love women who can kick “you know what.” How’d you get in to kickboxing?
L.T: Golf and yoga are things that I need in my life for mental reasons. Kickboxing is on the other side of the spectrum. I’m all of 5’4” and 115 pounds, but I can pack a punch on the bag. I started kickboxing a few years ago with my friend, Nicole. She’s on her way to becoming an accomplished attorney and needs to get out aggression every now and then. My job doesn’t exactly call for that, but hey – why not.
P.P: You did a super job this year as the on course celebrity interviewer at the Humana Challenge (in partnership with the Clinton Foundation). And I couldn’t help but notice how much the celebrities genuinely liked being interviewed by you. Can you share a story about an interview that’s been particularly memorable for you?
L.T: What a great event. I love being a part of it each year. When you get the touring professionals together with golf-nut celebs, and President Bill Clinton, it’s an occasion that really shines.
Interviews with Carson Daly, Dr. J, Morgan Freeman, and Craig T. Nelson always make for great TV, but Alice Cooper holds a special place in my heart.
In 2011, the hardcore “Rocker” overheard me talking about a charity function I was putting together for one of my niece’s friends who was just six-years old and battling leukemia. He came over to me and offered to send me something for the auction.
I scribbled my address down on a two-inch sheet of paper, sincerely believing there was no way he’d be able to keep track of it. One week later, a pink autographed guitar showed up in the mail.
Not only did he follow through, but he asked me off-camera this past year how she was doing. There is a big heart of gold behind that rough exterior. Love that man.
P.P: Great story Lauren, thanks. You also host “Top 10,” Golf Channel’s best and worst list about all things golf. What goes on behind the scenes in making an episode?
L.T: There is a good amount of prep work involved in making one episode of “Top 10.” We have a great team of producers and p.a’s – they’re magicians at painting the picture in every show.
Of course we want the interviews and opinions of the top personalities in golf. Sometimes we’re able to snag those while they’re in studio at Golf Channel. Other times we send out a remote crew to catch them at an event or their home course.
Afterwards we shoot the in-studio “stand-ups” so I can walk you through our countdown. At that point, we basically have a show. After we piece it all together and lay down the voice-over tracks… Bam! We send that puppy to air.
P.P: I’m willing to bet just about everyone reading this has seen some of your bikini photographs. But not many people know how you got started modeling and how that path eventually lead you to Golf Channel. Tell us about it.
L.T: You know, it’s not exactly my cup-of-tea anymore, but I suppose many years down the road after gravity takes it toll, it will give me something to look back on… Ha! In all honesty, I have no regrets. It was something fun to do in college and turns out, it paid pretty well.
But it didn’t exactly offer the challenge that I was looking for. At this time I was a Nursing major at UCF, and also spending four hours a night in the library. I was on scholarship as well as the “Presidents List.” It was tough, and I was beginning to question my career path.
Right around that time, I also started to dabble in infomercials, car commercials and recording voice-over tracks for local companies and various websites. I loved the creativity involved in production. I also loved the fact that each day posed new challenges and but also fresh rewards. I became addicted to a job that never felt like “work.”
When Golf Channel came calling, it was a surprise. I was about to enter the world of local news with a top channel in the Orlando market. Knowing they would probably cringe at the thought of my swing, I took a very up-front and honest approach with the Golf Channel executives.
They knew my love for game, but I thought I’d show them as well. Luckily for me, they weren’t looking for a swing comparable to Annika’s. They were looking for passion that would translate well to the viewer. We all love golf, and I take great pride in delivering golf nuggets to other golf nuts, who also may not have the game to show for it.
I finished at UCF with a major in Marketing and Communications, and have endless respect for nurses and those in the medical field. I know the track they took to get there. But you can’t beat a life covering the greatest game known to man.
P.P: Interesting, thanks Lauren. What do you think you do best or like the most at Golf Channel?
L.T: The energy on “Morning Drive.” Being a part of that team is something I am extremely proud of. The show boasts the respect of hackers and Touring professionals alike. I would watch it every day even if I wasn’t part of the gang. Where else can you find a complete analysis of what’s going on in golf, and get to know the players and heavy hitters in the game on a personal level.
We’ve had “The King” in studio, met Paula Creamer’s dog, 2012 Masters Champion Bubba Watson took it on himself to surprise us on live TV with an up close and personal look at that green jacket. Legends of the game are friends of “Morning Drive.” That tells you something.
P.P: Hot topic now Lauren, in more ways than one. Let’s talk sex appeal. Like it or not, agree or not, you have it.
And it’s encouraged and promoted seemingly more than ever. We see it with LPGA superstar Suzanne Pettersen modeling nude in Sports Illustrated, with Sandra Gal being voted “World’s Hottest Golfer,” and even with companies like Cobra Puma Golf which feature Blair O’Neal in new equipment ads that could just as easily pass for lingerie ads. Sex sells.
The problem is people sometimes wrongfully judge attractive women as “all looks no substance.” And sometimes even suggest attractive women attain positions because of “appearance and not merit.”
To the extent you’ve been exposed to these criticisms (or any criticism for that matter that arises merely from being a popular on-air celebrity) how do you deal with that?
L.T: I am very comfortable in my own skin. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel confident and sexy. There are boundaries however, and you have got to know your limits as a female in the male-dominated world of sports.
The critics are out there though, and would love to take shots at you while hidden behind the shield of their computer. There are so many wonderful things about social media and the internet as a whole, but it also really opens you up to a world of negatively.
You have two choices here. You can search your name and give the 10% that hate you a fast-pass to getting under your skin. Or you can ignore the skeptics and focus on the facts. My advice is this: know yourself and your role.
I know that it took me 12 years to get to where I am today. I struggled financially for a path that I knew would make me happiest in the long run. And I carried a schedule that many times meant missed birthdays, graduations, family vacations, and weddings. There are no sick days, no personal days. But now I’m represented by the top name in the industry, and I am forever grateful.
Everyone has the right to an opinion. If taking time out of their own schedule to blast someone they have never met makes them feel better, then by all means… go for it. An uneducated opinion is none of my business.
P.P: You say it how it is – love that. Thanks Lauren. OK, “Back-9” final group of rapid style Q&A. Here we go.
P.P: What’s the best advice you ever got from mom?
L.T: My mom always said to hold your head up and keep your shoulders back. The first bit has taken me far in life. She’s a smart woman.
P.P: Do you want to see long putters banned in 2016?
L.T: This is an extremely sensitive issue facing golf. I’d like to see the same rules projected across the Tours. But banning it for recreational golfers could in turn hurt the game. I don’t know if there is a perfect answer here. But the Tours should not be able to create their own rules. The USGA and R&A are golf’s governing bodies, and they need to be the ones to make the decision.
P.P: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen on a golf course?
L.T: You know, people seem to overestimate their level on privacy on the golf course. I have seen more men “relieve themselves” in the bushes than I can count on two hands. But hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do… that must be the icing on life’s cake. Whatever.
P.P: Favorite music you’re listening to lately?
L.T: I’m a big time fan of the Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band, Jay-Z, DMB, Gwen Stefani, Metallica… I’m a musical mutt.
P.P: Who’s in your dream golf foursome?
L.T: I change this answer in every interview just to have some fun with it. This time around let’s go with: Arnold Palmer because I love his stories, Bubba Watson because he’s one of my favorites on Tour, and Jenny McCarthy because I love her humor… I believe we’d be good friends.
P.P: What’s your favorite PGA Tour event?
L.T: Outside of the majors, it’s a toss-up between the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship because of the pressure and unpredictability of match play, and Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational, being that it is so close to my house. We like to get a big group together for Saturday and Sunday of that event.
P.P: What’s your favorite sport (besides golf) and favorite team?
L.T: My favorite team for years was the Orlando Magic… before Dwight Howard’s drama last season. Still love the Magic and try to catch Dwight every now and then when the Lakers are playing, but I’m not as dialed-in to the team as I have been in previous years. We just lost J.J. (Redick) too! So sad.
P.P: Who are some of your favorite fashion designers?
L.T: I like designs that are body conscious with a classic edge. Knowing your body is a must in women’s clothing. Being aware of what works gives you some serious ammo that you can really run with. I wear a lot of BCBG, Diane Von Furstenberg, Marciano, and Banana Republic. Now shoes… shoes are a problem. I’m in a love-hate relationship with Christian (Louboutins), Charles (David), Gianni (Bini), and Stuart (Weitzman).
P.P: Something that gives you the creeps or something you’re scared of?
L.T: I’ll admit it. I’m 30-years old and scared of the dark. Movies like Gothica and Paranormal Activity completely freak me out. I can deal with blood and guts all day long, but the visual of some creepy kid scaling the wall in a movie is something I can’t shake. Ask anyone in my road crew – there is a strict “no ghost story” policy.
P.P: And finally how the favorite club in your bag, and least favorite?
L.T: My favorite shot in the bag is a sand wedge from 50 – 100 yards out. I can usually stick it to within a few feet in that scenario. Hybrids are my enemy. There seems to be a long-standing mental issue with those clubs. My drives are also pretty safe… so is my bunker work.
P.P: Has there been a significant event in your life you’ve had to endure and overcome that’s shaped you into the person you are today?
L.T: My mom is the strongest person I know. When my sister was four and I was just an infant, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and passed away two weeks before my first birthday. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for her.
She was a nurse at the time, but switched fields in order to have the same schedule as her daughters. Being a teacher allowed her to have the same hours and holidays as we would. She never dated for the fear that she would “inherit someone else’s headache” or expose my sister and I to strangers in the house. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that she began to date again.
She has set the ultimate example for her daughters for working hard, making sacrifices, and fighting through the tears. To this day, I have only seen her cry one time – that’s it, and it was tears of joy. She’s my rock.
P.P: Thanks for sharing that Lauren. There have been 16 different winners in the past 17 majors, and more first time winners are doing so early in their career, even as rookies. Is this a sign that parity on Tour is the norm rather than the exception?
L.T: It’s a sign of how strong and skilled Tour professionals are today overall. Tiger recently captured his 76th win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but as exciting as it was a few years ago watching Woods at the top of his game – taking home hardware nearly every week he was in the field, some fresh faces have since had the chance to emerge.
The Tour is just packed with hard-hitting talent. Talent that deserves to experience what it’s like to be in the winner’s circle. The only drawback per say, comes when making “Fantasy Picks” – the Charlie Beljans and Michael Thompsons of the world can throw you for a loop!
P.P: What’s been your most embarrassing on air or in studio moment as a Golf Channel sportscaster?
L.T: Oh wow. So, so many. Let’s start with “GolfNow.” I have had countless wardrobe malfunctions on set, but that’s what you get when you’re thrown into beach volleyball, zip lining, and jumping off of rocks on a weekly basis. Thank goodness that one isn’t a live show.
“Morning Drive” simply because of the live show aspect welcomes a “goof” or two each and every day. Conducting a conversation while a producer is in your ear is a true talent that one never fully masters.
I’ve had a few “Morning Drive Mulligans” where I’ve been a bit too sleep deprived and completely tuned out Gary. He asked a question – an obvious deflection was the result. My ADD likes to make an appearance every now and then.
P.P: Haha. One of the last times we talked you told me you just wrapped up a marathon 17-hour photo shoot. Seriously, that’s absolutely crazy. How can that take so much time?
L.T: Photo shoots are what you make of them. I’m always game for trying something new with hopes of a great shot. What usually comes with that can of worms is a very long day.
For “GolfNow,” five long days are par for the course – pun intended. We usually set out for our first course around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., wrap there around 11 a.m., feed the crew, and then have three or four more stops before returning to the hotel around 10 p.m. or so – just in time to knock out some research, shower, and sleep.
I love my “road family” and the intensity of the schedule. We lean on each other to get through the long days… and keep ourselves well-caffeinated.
P.P: Who at Golf Channel would you say you have some of the best chemistry with?
L.T: I love working with Kelly Tilghman. There are so many layers to that woman. Put the two of us together with a good bottle of wine, and we can talk for hours. She’s been with Golf Channel since day one, with the stories to prove it.
Jerry Foltz and Todd Lewis are my boys – there is no better duo to grab a beer with while out on the road.
And Charlie Rymer is another of my favorites. Since I started back in January of 2009, Rymer has made me feel like part for the gang. If you’re looking for a good, funny follow on “Twitter,” Charlie’s your guy.
P.P: Last question Lauren. Golf Channel has some 17 shows and you’re in three of them. Obviously you’re doing things right. But where do you see yourself in another four years?
L.T: I can’t express how thankful I am not only to Golf Channel for bringing me aboard, but to the viewers for keeping me there. I’ve been in TV for a long time and worked with countless networks and producers. But I have never seen a group as family-oriented and cohesive as the individuals that make up Golf Channel.
I was blown away when they brought me on for “Top 10.” “GolfNow” was the show that allowed me to spread my wings and really give the viewers a feel for who I was as an individual. And now I’m part of “Morning Drive” – the fastest growing show on Golf Channel? Somebody pinch me.
When you first set out in television, you’re so worried about the image you’re projecting, and what other people think of you. It took me about ten years to let go of the pre-conceived ideas I had for myself, and just BE me. Flaws and all, there is no one “you-er” than you. Coming to grips with that concept will change your life.
As for the next four years? If it’s anything like the first four, I’m buckling up for one wild ride!
P.P: It’s a virtual certainty the talented Miss Thompson’s next four years will be bigger, brighter, and wilder than even her first four extraordinary years at Golf Channel. Thompson puts the “Go” in Golf Channel with her distinctively larger-than-life personality.
She’s unique, a free spirit certainly. But also the first to depend on if you’re ever in trouble. Thompson’s unabashedly confident, and openly speaks her mind. But she’s also grounded with a perspective that only comes from life’s tough lessons learned, down to earth and genuinely grateful for every moment.
Thompson’s a gifted old soul with an untamed heart, who lives like there’s no tomorrow. And quite frankly, you can’t help but admire that.
Dedicated to The Memory of my mom Z (October 1941 – February 2013)
Vincenzi: World Wide Technologies Championship First Round Leader picks
The PGA Tour continues its fall swing this week in Los Cabos, Mexico as the majority of the field battles it out to get into the top-125 of the FedEx Cup standings.
El Cardonal brings plenty of unknowns this week. The Tiger Woods design has not been used in a professional setting thus far and was built in large part as a resort style course, meaning it most likely will be torn apart by PGA Tour players. I fully expect this event to get into the -25 range and will be targeting players who can go low.
One quantifiable entity that El Cardonal will bring is Paspalum greens, which seems to bring out the best in certain players in the field.
The layout is fairly wide open with big greens, so long hitters could excel at the course, but I wouldn’t rule out shorter players given the easy layout.
As of now, there appears to be very little wind in the forecast. However, being on the coast, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it play a small factor on Thursday.
2023 World Wide Technology First-Round Leader Picks
Matt Kuchar +7000 (Caesars)
Matt Kuchar isn’t the longest hitter, which may hold him back at El Cardonal as opposed to a course like El Camaleon where he’s won, but I still believe the resort-style setup of this course will be beneficial for the 45-year-old.
Kuchar has been playing a lot of golf lately, so he should be relatively sharp for the event. In his most recent start, he played the Andalucia Masters and shot a final round-67, which was the second lowest round of the day.
In addition to the win at the Mayakoba in 2021, Kuchar also has 3rd place finish as well as numerous top finishes on other coastal tracks. He ranks 16th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum.
Tyler Duncan +8000 (FanDuel)
Tyler Duncan has had a strong fall, finishing 16th at the Sanderson Farms Championship and 18th at the Shriners Children’s Open. He also has some intriguing paspalum form including a 3rd at the Corales (2023) and 23rd at Mayakoba in 2020. He ranks 12th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on the surface.
Duncan also feasts on easy course setups and ranks 3rd in the field in the category. His most recent round played was a 65 in the final round of the Shriners and seems an ideal candidate to go low again on Thursday.
Austin Eckroat +8000 (BetRivers)
Austin Eckroat has some strong paspalum finishes including a 5th place finish at the 2023 Corales Puntacana and a 12th place finish at the Mayakoba. The Oklahoma State product managed to contend at Corales despite going into the event with six consecutive missed cuts.
Many anticipated Eckroat to have a big year in 2022-2023, but he struggled fairly often. The talent is undoubtedly there, and he’ll look to start stringing some results together starting at a course that should suit him.
Harry Hall +9000 (FanDuel)
For a multitude of reasons, I believe Harry Hall is primed to have a big week in Mexico. The Englishman absolutely loves playing on the coast and a good deal of his best finishes have come on Paspalum including the 2023 Puerto Rico Open (7th), j2023 Mexico Open 2023 Corales (13th), and the 2022 Great Exuma (19th).
Hall is a fantastic putter who can get extremely hot on the greens which is always a bonus for a first-round leader bet.
Kelly Kraft +11000 (FanDuel)
Kelly Kraft is another resort course specialist who boasts strong results on similar tracks including a 3rd and 5th place finish at Corales (2018 and 2019), a 15th place finish at the Mexico Open (2020) and 15th at the Puerto Rico Open (2016).
In addition to the strong results on correlating courses, Kraft is also in excellent form. In his past two starts, he’s gained 6.3 and 7.7 strokes on approach, which make up two of the best six approach performances of his entire career.
After finishes of 25th, 16th and 23rd in his three starts this fall, the 36-year-old should be set up to have a strong week on a course that he will undoubtedly feel very comfortable on.
Vincenzi’s World Wide Technology Championship betting preview: Paspalum green specialists ready to feast in Mexico
The PGA TOUR heads to Los Cabos, Mexico to play the 2023 World Wide Technology Championship at El Cardonal at Diamante.
Previously named The Mayakoba Golf Classic and the OHL at Mayakoba, the event was held at El Camaleón Golf Club for sixteen years prior to being moved to El Cardonal. El Camaleón is now utilized for the LIV Golf Mayakoba event.
El Cardonal at Diamante is a 7,452-yard, par-72 Tiger Woods design featuring paspalum greens. “Influenced by the old-style courses of Southern California where he grew up playing, Tiger created a course that brings back the need for strategy—providing players with several shot options to navigate during each hole.”
This event features 132 players vying for 500 FedExCup points and will finalize the top 125 for the next season. The fields continue to be relatively weak as we make our way through the end of the fall swing. Some of the notable golfers among the 132 in the field include: Ludvig Aberg, Cameron Young, Lucas Glover, Emiliano Grillo, Beau Hossler and Cameron Champ.
Past Winners at World Wide Technology Championship (at El Camaleón Golf Club)
- 2022: Russell Henley (-23)
- 2021: Viktor Hovland (-23)
- 2020: Viktor Hovland (-20)
- 2019: Brendon Todd (-20)
- 2018: Matt Kuchar (-22)
- 2017: Patton Kizzire (-19)
- 2016: Pat Perez (-21)
- 2015: Kevin Kisner (-18)
- 2014: Charlie Hoffman (-17)
- 2013: Harris English (-21)
Let’s take a look at several metrics for El Cardonal at Diamante to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.
Strokes Gained: Approach
When speaking about the course, Tiger Woods said, “Angles of approach are going to be very important and will dictate the type of shots you should consider”. With Tiger Woods’ influence, there’s a good chance that El Cardonal will play as a second shot golf course.
Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:
- Lucas Glover (+29.5)
- Sam Ryder (+24.9)
- Russell Knox (+22.4)
- Chez Reavie (+18.3)
- Ryan Moore (+17.9)
El Cardonal features some forgiving fairways and is a relatively long course, so distance should be favored over accuracy this week.
Total Driving Distance in past 24 rounds:
- Cameron Champ (+22.5)
- Peter Kuest (+17.1)
- M.J. Daffue (+16.5)
- Chris Gotterup (+16.0)
- Kyle Westmoreland (+15.1)
Strokes Gained Total: Paspalum
Paspalum greens are a different surface than what most of the TOUR players are used to. They can be bumpy and slow, and certain golfers tend to really thrive on them year in, year out.
Comparable greens can be found at TPC Kuala Lumpur (CIMB Classic), Coco Beach Golf and Country Club (Puerto Rico Open) and Corales Golf Club (Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship).
Total Strokes Gained: Paspalum in past 24 rounds:
- Brandon Wu (+51.3)
- Adam Long (+42.4)
- Nate Lashley (+40.0)
- Akshay Bhatia (+34.0)
- Harry Hall (+26.8)
At a resort course in Mexico, we will likely see some scoreable conditions this week. Therefore, it will be important to target golfers who consistently see birdie opportunities from within 15 feet. Historically, poor putters have done fairly well on paspalum, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a typically strong tee to green player get hot with the flat stick.
Total strokes gained in category in past 24 rounds:
- Russell Knox (+23.8)
- Callum Tarren (+21.3)
- Doug Ghim (+19.0)
- Ludvig Aberg (+18.5)
- Chris Kirk (+18.0)
Strokes Gained: Total in Easy Scoring Conditions
At the end of the day, this is a resort course in Mexico during the swing season. There’s a high likelihood of this event turning into a “birdie-fest”.
Total Strokes Gained: Total in Easy Scoring Conditions:
- Doug Ghim (+39.4)
- Stephan Jaeger (+29.2)
- Tyler Duncan (+24.1)
- Akshay Bhatia (+23.7)
- Ludvig Aberg (+22.3)
Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.
These rankings are comprised of SG: App (28%) Driving Distance (18%); SG: Paspalum (18%); Opportunities Gained (18%); and, Strokes Gained: Total in Easy Scoring Conditions (15%)
- Callum Tarren (+6500)
- Stephan Jaeger (+2500)
- Doug Ghim (+5500)
- Akshay Bhatia (+4000)
- Lucas Glover (+2500)
- Cameron Champ (+5000)
- Brandon Wu (+8000)
- Kevin Roy (+25000)
- Luke List (+4000)
- Kevin Yu (+11000)
2023 World Wide Technology Championship Picks
Emiliano Grillo +2800 (FanDuel)
Emiliano Grillo has played a lot of his best golf on shorter resort-style courses in this region of the world and/or on Paspalum Greens. He has a second (2015) and third (2020) place finish at the Puerto Rico Open, a sixth at Corales (2021), and three top-10 finishes at El Camaleón (2016, 2017 & 2020). He also came in 5th at last year’s Mexico Open at Vidanta. The Argentinian ranks 7th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum.
Grillo started slowly this fall, missing his first two cuts, but bounced back nicely with a 10th place finish at the ZOZO Championship in his most recent start. While there was no shot tracker at the event, Grillo gained on the field in what was measured including Driving Distance, Good Drives Gained and Greens in Regulation.
After the top of the board, there is a steep drop-off in terms of talent and win equity and I believe Grillo represents the best option in the next tier of golfers.
Akshay Bhatia +4000 (BetMGM)
Akshay Bhatia has shown early and often throughout his career that he favors coastal Paspalum golf courses. In the field, he ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum and 4th in Strokes Gained: Total on easy courses. The resort style setup will be a perfect recipe for the rising star to find success at El Cardonal this week.
Bhatia has already won on the Korn Ferry Tour in the Sandals Emerald Bay, which is a coastal paspalum track that has some similarities to what we’ll see this week in Mexico. In 2021, the 21-year-old had a runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open and placed 26th at the Corales Puntacana Championsip. Last year, Bhatia finished 2nd at the Puerto Rico Open and 4th at the Mexico Open at Vidanta.
The smooth-swinging lefty has already broken through for his first PGA Tour victory at the Barracuda Championship, beating out Patrick Rodgers in a playoff. However, that was an alternate event opposite of the Open Championship. Akshay is still motivated with a lot to prove as we head into the 2024 season.
Cameron Champ +6600 (BetRivers)
Cameron Champ has had a strong fall, finishing 9th the Sanderon Farms and 18th at the Shriners in consecutive starts prior to a poor result at the ZOZO Championship in Japan. Despite the setback, the 25-year-old should still be in excellent form as he heads to Mexico this week.
Champ is another player who’s had strong results on Paspalum throughout his career. In the field, he ranks 10th in Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum and has finished 6th at the Mexico Open in 2022, and 8th in 2023 to go along with a 10th place finish in 2018 at the OHL at Mayakoba. There seems to be a clear theme with Champ bringing his A-game when he plays in Mexico.
El Cardonal appears to be a course that will favor bombers, and Champ is the biggest bomber on Tour, leading the field in Driving Distance over his past 24 rounds.
He’s inconsistent, but Champ has proven that if he gets in the mix, he can win an event.
Joel Dahmen +6500 (FanDuel)
Joel Dahmen had a rough season in 2022-2023 but has shown some recent signs that he’s getting his game back on track during the fall swing. He struggled at the ZOZO Championship, but I’m happy to disregard one start in Japan after showing strong iron play in his previous start. He gained 4.6 on approach at the Shriners to go along with 5.4 strokes off the tee. The 10.2 strokes Dahmen gained from tee to green was his best performance in that category since March of 2020.
Dahmen also has some strong paspalum results. He’s won the Corales Puntacana Championship in 2021, finished 3rd at Mayakoba in 2022 and 6th there in 2019. He’s played really well on easier setups and should thrive this week in what may turn out to be a “birdie fest”.
Brandon Wu +8000 (FanDuel)
Sticking with the Paspalum theme, Brandon Wu is a player who seems to be a completely different player on the surface. He ranks 1st in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum, and four of his best six finishes on the PGA Tour come on Paspalum, which is incredible considering the lack of events played on it.
In his past 24 rounds, the Stanford product ranks 19th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 8th in Opportunities Gained, which indicated he’s ready to break out if he can get his putter going. Considering he gains 0.6 strokes on the field per event on Paspalum as opposed to losing strokes to the field on every other surface, El Cardonal seems a likely spot for him to figure it out.
Wu has two finishes of 7th or better at both the Puerto Rico Open and the Mexico Open. I believe in the long-term ceiling for Wu, and I think this week may be the most realistic spot for the 26-year-old to get his first PGA TOUR victory.
Adam Long +15000 (FanDuel)
Adam Long is the last player on the card and continues the theme of players who are extremely comfortable on Paspalum greens. Long ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum and has finishes of 2nd and 3rd in Mexico at the Mayakoba as well as a 5th at the Corales Puntacana Championship.
Long hasn’t been at his best over the last few seasons, but he started his fall swing on a positive note, finishing 35th at both the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Shriners. In both of those starts, he gained strokes on approach and tee to green. Perhaps a return to his favorite surface will spark Long to return to form even further this week in Mexico.
The Wedge Guy: How many wedges should you carry?
At Edison Golf, we’ve been doing a number of user reviews with various forums, including this one with the GolfWRX community. I always like to try to have a personal conversation with the “winners” of these, so that we can get exactly the right specs for their wedges to be reviewed. And that conversation always starts with an examination into the 9-iron and “P-club” lofts which is currently in their bags.
But let’s be honest. In today’s iron world, that club bearing the designation “P”, is not anything close to be a true “wedge”, as the typical loft nowadays is 42 to 45 degrees . . . and a true “pitch shot” simply cannot be executed with that low a lofted club. I’ve written about the disappearance of the true “pitching wedge” HERE.
So, when we ask the question, “How many wedges should I carry?”, the starting point should be from that club to the highest lofted wedge you are comfortable having in your bag. And the answer is simple…
However many it takes to optimize your scoring range performance.
Those of you who know my work and writing over the past 25 years or so also know that I am a proponent of carrying a carefully measured “set” of wedges that give you the shotmaking control you need in prime scoring range. But what I’ve learned over those many years is that the number of wedges that is “right”, and the lofts of those wedges can be very different from one golfer to another.
Getting this right is crucially important, as your scores are more heavily influenced by your play from wedge range into the green, and your shotmaking around the greens, than by any other factor. The right “set” of wedges in your bag can make all the difference in the world.
As I repeatedly preach, taking your guidance from the PGA Tour players will not likely help you achieve your goals. These guys spend hundreds of hours each year perfecting their wedge play, and you don’t. The myriad of shots they have mastered is not realistic for you to mimic by always manipulating your swing. You are much better off adding some science to your wedge set makeup that can help you have more shot choices when you are in scoring range or trying to save par from a missed green.
How many wedges should you carry?
My basic premise on the subject is that the answer can be approached scientifically for each golfer, and it is a multi-step process:
- Begin by knowing the loft of the 9-iron and “P-club” that came with your set of irons, as optimum gapping begins there. The industry challenge of producing longer-hitting irons has led most OEMs to strengthen lofts throughout the set . . . specifically so they have a chance of winning “the launch monitor war” with their 6- or 7-iron. As those lofts have constantly been strengthened, it was apparently decided to widen the gaps between the short irons to 5 degrees from the traditional 4 that stood for decades. What this does is increase the distance differential between your 9-iron and “P-club” from what I would consider optimum. For golfers of slower swing speeds, that 5* gap might well deliver a 10-12 yard differential, but my bet is that most of you are getting a difference closer to 15 yards, or even more. That just will not let you get the distance control precision you want in prime scoring range.
- The second step is to be honest with your distances. I am a big proponent of getting on the golf course or range with a laser or GPS and really knowing how far you carry each of your short irons and wedges. Hit a number of shots from known yardages and see where they land (not including roll out). My bet is that you will find that your distances are different from what you thought they were, and that the differentials between clubs are not consistent.
- Figure out where to start. If your actual and real distance gap between your 9-iron and “P-club” is over 12-13 yards, maybe the place to start could be with a stronger P-club. You can either have your loft strengthened a bit or make the shaft ¼ to ½” longer to add a few yards to that club.
- Figure out what lofts your wedges should have. From there, I suggest selecting lofts of your wedges to build a constant full-swing yardage difference of 10-12 yards between clubs. Depending on your strength profile, that may require wedges at 4* intervals, or it might be 5 – each golfer is different. Those with very slow swing speeds might even find that 6* gaps deliver that distance progression.
- Challenge the traditional 52/56/60 or 50/54/58 setup. That first sequence of lofts became the “standard” when set-match pitching wedges were 48 degrees of loft, and the second as “P-club” lofts got even stronger. With the current crop of irons, you might find that your ideal wedge gapping starts at 47 or 48 degrees. The goal is to start where true wedge play begins and work from there to achieve ideal gapping. Though no company offers wedges in every loft, you can bend any wedge to hit your numbers exactly. Just remember, bending stronger reduces the bounce and bending weaker increases the bounce.
What many of you will find with this exercise is that it suggests that you should be carrying more wedges. That’s probably true for the vast majority of recreational golfers. I have come to realize that more wedges and fewer long clubs will usually improve your scores. After all, long or short by 25-30 feet is great at long range, but not acceptable in prime scoring range.
If you have more clubs at the long end of your bag (longer than a 5- or 6-iron) than you do at the short end (9-iron and up), then you should consider an honest self-appraisal of how often you use each club between your driver and putter. My bet is that it will be an enlightening analysis.
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